Back To School Guide: Zine Scene 101

How To Find Albuquerque’s Underground Publishing Scene

Mike Smith
5 min read
Zine Scene 101
(Marya Errin Jones)
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Zines? What are zines?

Zines are self-published, low-budget periodicals—usually written, designed, photocopied and distributed in small batches by a single individual or group. The word “zine” is an abridgment of the word “magazine,” and though they’ve been around since the early days of literary sci-fi fandom, they really entered counterculture with the advent of the late-’70s punk scene.

Usually black-and-white, staple-bound and the size of an 8 by 11 piece of paper folded in half, zines are often about music, politics or culture. They are a genuine voice from the underground. Zines are culture you either have to consciously seek out … or be found by.

Unique to Albuquerque

There are many worthwhile nationally distributed zines, some of them with circulations approaching those of mainstream magazines—but to me, the major appeal of zines is how hyperlocal they are. My favorites are about the people I love, the city I love and the bands I just saw play last week. Local zine wig wam bam has been reviewing local house and small-venue shows since the late ’90s. Last Night at the Casino gives us one man’s experience of working at a casino in Albuquerque. ABQ Lost, when it comes out, gives us insights into the minds of the city’s fringe. But zines come and go, and the zine scene here changes regularly. The zines, the zine writers, the places to find zines—they are always in flux. Sometimes zines are everywhere; sometimes they’re pretty scarce.

Once, to satisfy my own curiosity, I tried to track down a copy of every zine in the city—and though I quickly realized that goal may be impossible, I did manage to find copies of about 30 different publications. I read them all and put together a zine about them. There was Doomsayer’s Digest, an unreadable mystical zine which literally had portions written in blood (gross); 8 850 Sport,which was made out of license plates and existed only as a single copy; and DRUGS, which, despite the title, was actually all about Jesus. I also remember one that included a CD-ROM of an amateur inventor’s blueprints for clean energy and space travel, and another that was just one racist weirdo’s fantasies about how he would sleep with a Vietnamese waitress if only he was black. But that’s the thing with zines: They are as direct a conduit as you can get into a person’s mind, for good or for bad. They reflect people and times and places, and there’s a beauty in the fact that anyone can make one.

For you. And me.

The Albuquerque zine scene is perfect for anyone who craves community but is maybe a little bit of an agoraphobe. You can still be involved with people, trading zines and attending occasional readings, while still working on your own. The zine scene here even has its own annual festival and its own zine library thanks to local zine legend Marya Errin Jones, who founded both.

Andy Lyman, the local zinester behind Bands!, which reviews fake bands and hilariously lampoons music journalism, attributes much of the scene’s strength to Jones. “I mean that’s it,” he says. “Zines are inherently local and idiosyncratic, but not every town is fortunate enough to have a dedicated maniac to put on a zine fest for them all by her damn self three years in a row.”

Liza Bley, who writes the sex-positive zine Not Your Mother’s Meatloaf, says, “The Albuquerque zine scene is extremely active. When I moved to Albuquerque four years ago, I signed up for a zine reading at Cellar Door (RIP) and was instantly accepted and welcomed. The scene has only increased in size and momentum. We’re gearing up for ABQ Zine Fest 4 at
The Kosmos on Oct. 4. It takes a messy balance of energy, but Albuquerque zinesters manage to support each other …”

Billy McCall, who writes Proof I Exist and many other zines, says, “Albuquerque is the ‘Land of Mañana.’ There is a slowness out here that I initially interpreted as laziness, but have now come to recognize as patience. That might mean they drive a bit slower or take until tomorrow to finish a project, but it also means they respect things that take time to create. A lot of people in this town would rather go to the record store than download an mp3. And a lot of people would rather read a zine than check for blog updates. Albuquerque keeps it old school.”

Hunting the scene

The surest way to find zines in Albuquerque is to write a zine yourself. Find something you want to write about—it can be anything: kombucha, ’80s movies or protesting APD violence—and then write it. And then the scene will find you. It’s a bit like magic. Or go to the ABQ Zine Library, located inside The Tannex at 1415 Fourth Street SW. Or to the 4th annual ABQ Zine Fest, happening this Oct. 4 at The Kosmos (1715 Fifth Street NW). Or check the stacks of fliers and miscellany near the door of almost any hip coffee shop, comic shop, record store, music venue or bookstore.

There’s a quote I found somewhere from a national zinester by the name of Larrybob that I think captures this well. He said, “The medium is the message. … The message of a zine is ‘Do your own zine.’ The message of a glossy magazine is, ‘Buy this magazine and don’t think for yourself.’”

Zines are for everyone, and that means zines are for Albuquerque. And that means zines are for you.
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